Harbingers of the season in St. Louis: Ted Drewes begins selling Christmas trees. Opening day for the Cardinals. Shakespeare Festival St. Louis opens.
This year's offering, "Antony and Cleopatra" opened Friday night on one of the most beatific opening evenings I recall, and I've only missed two of them. Most of us looked at the weather forecast and brought a jacket to pull on sometime during the first act, which was fine, and a very light occasional breeze kept insect nibbling at a minimum. A good crowd, considering that this is not one of the more frequently performed of Shakespeare's plays, and lots of folks arriving early not only to picnic but to enjoy the theater-related activities that start well before curtain time - festive times for the festival.
Just as in movies, the history in this play is adjusted for dramatic impact, so don't let the fellow next to you start muttering about how many times Antony actually married or that sort of thing. To me, it's a play about how hormones and the love that can either cause them or result from them, makes people do things they well might not do otherwise.
There's been a lot of argument over Cleopatra over the years, but Shakespeare was around and writing during the later reign of Elizabeth I - he knew something about female rulers and how they used their gender and their power. The Cleopatra that director Mike Donahue gives us is a fine cross between a powerful woman of her time and a modern woman. Shirine Babb, our Cleopatra, grabs the role and absolutely explodes with it, in the best possible sense. She's a force to be reckoned with.
Antony, Jay Stratton, is absolutely torn between his allegiance to Rome and his desire for Cleopatra, or Egypt, as he often addresses her. (No, this does not appear to be Freudian.) Duty as one of the triumvirate ruling rome calls and he reluctantly parts from his beloved, but when he's in Rome, his duty is - usually - foremost. But his ambivalence is never far from his mind and he heads back to the woman he loves whenever he has a chance. His back-and-forthing in terms of loyalties, never mind the long commute, are ultimately his undoing.
Good support comes from cast members like Kari Ely, as Charmian, Cleopatra's leading maid, who seems a stock role until the last scene when she mourns her lady's death, and more. Conan McCarty is Domitius Enobarbus, an ally of Antony's and a wise voice that often isn't heard.
The stage looks very simple. It's wonderfully elegant, with four giant gold columns standing for the palaces of Rome and Alexandria. And it's huge, bigger than it looks until you realize performers are running on and off the stage. Full credit to Scott C. Neale for this creation, far more complex than it looks. Dottie Marshall Englis does the fine costumes, and a particular ovation for Rusty Wandall's sound design, beautifully executed and easyeasyeasy to hear this complex dialogue.
A worthwhile evening. Go.
Antony and Cleopatra
St. Louis Shakespeare Festival
through June 14
Shakespeare Glen (by the Art Museum)